The Power Of Dna In The Courtroom

1142 words - 5 pages

The Power of DNA in the Courtroom

 
       In 1893, Francis Galton introduced a remarkable new way to identify people ("Fingerprinting" pg 1 par 3). His observation that each individual has a unique set of fingerprints revolutionized the world of forensics. Soon, all investigators had adapted the idea to use fingerprints as a form of identification. Unfortunately, over the course of the past century, criminals have adapted to this technique and seldom leave their incriminating marks at the crime scene. Forensics specialists were in need of a new way to identify criminals, and DNA provided the answer. When it comes to genetic material, it is virtually impossible for a criminal ...view middle of the document...

 

However, nothing is foolproof. Problems have arisen in courtrooms already because of soiled genetic evidence. The slightest mistake can destroy an entire  sample, and "no amount of effort and improved technology can reduce the error rate to zero" (NRC pg 1). These problems are not frequent, but they do have the potential to destroy a person's life. Whether the test sample is tampered with or the entire sample is used in the DNA tests, these mistakes cannot be double-checked. In lieu of these problems, the judicial system has become cautious when dealing with genetic evidence. The procedures taken when analyzing DNA samples are strictly observed, and if there is an ounce of doubt about the validity then the test is deemed inadmissible. As an added protection, the accused person is allowed the opportunity to divide DNA samples and have an independent test run. If the two test results match, the chance of having accurate, admissible samples is much greater (Ballantyne pg 149).

 

DNA fingerprinting is an accurate, absolute form of identification. Still, in a courtroom case where a person's life is on the line, is it worth the risk of mistake? The court is still out on that verdict, but the people who have been faced with that same question have answered loud and clear. In the much-debated O. J. Simpson trial, the jury was presented with genetic evidence from blood collected at the crime scene. According to Singer, results of a DNA fingerprinting test showed that there were fourteen DNA bands in the crime scene blood. O. J. Simpson's blood had fourteen perfectly identical bands. Population geneticists have determined that the chances of somebody having these matching bands is one in 57 billion (Singer pg 1 par 1). Still, the jury acquitted Simpson of the charges. Evidently, the jury needed something more than a DNA test to condemn a man to life in  prison. Even though the DNA was an exact match, because much of the other evidence presented in the case was questionable, the jury opted for reasonable doubt. This is only one example of the public's reservations concerning the absoluteness of genetic evidence.

 

Canada is in a similar predicament. Their court systems have been debating the issue of DNA as evidence as well, and are still uncertain about how to deal with this. They have reached one important decision, however, about using DNA in parentage testing. "Canadian immigration officers are instructed to have the utmost confidence in the...

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